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I was standing at our camp slide #8, the biggest falls on the river, just after sunrise on the fourth day descending the Nachvak river. Camp was calm and our own little bedrock swimming pool was glassy and still. Here after sunrise, breaking down camp, and a little more scouting, a big move was to be made and I knew where I needed to watch. After some preparation, Pedro Oliva and Ben Stookesberry emerged near the river in full paddling gear, gripping paddles, and with their longboats. They walked to an overhang above the falls and exchanged some words. Soon, I could see Pedro in his Karma Unlimited paddle toward the chasm.

Months before when Ben and I were talking about the Nachvak mission, he was sold on paddling the long boats, but I was concerned there would be big compromise, both for hiking and whitewater. I didn’t want to portage something because of the boat I was paddling. Of course, Ben and Pedro were going to access the North by means of the famous George River canoe route where the speed and gear-hauling ability of the Unlimited would be crucial, but I didn’t have that consideration. I was coming straight from Russia and would join them only for the hiking and steepness of the Nachvak, so classic, slightly lighter Karma for me.

That morning after the sun rose and Pedro and Ben dropped in to the biggest, steepest whitewater I have seen run in a longboat, I knew there was little compromise for the whitewater as they had just run everything that Ben Marr and I had in short boats. Feeling accomplished while paddling away from what we knew to be one of the biggest features on the river, we knew it wasn’t over. In fact, after the whitewater, the real challenge of the mission was about to begin.

The novelty and draw of this expedition wasn’t just the whitewater, but accessing it via foot through untracked wilderness. Bears, the Torngat mountains, rivers, lakes, storms, swarms of bugs, and days worth of food and gear on our shoulders for days of hiking made it interesting to the point of near exhaustion, but an exhaustion we wouldn’t leave behind for anything.

Photos by Pedro Oliva and Ben Stookesberry